Feds start review of endangered Southern Resident orcas

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service says it’s starting a five-year status review of the Southern Resident orcas.

NOAA Fisheries published a notice in the Federal Register about the status review last week, The Skagit Valley Herald reported. The whales were listed as endangered in 2005 under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the 1990s, the number of orcas in the three family groups — called J, K and L pods — that make up the population has dropped from the high 90s into the 70s.

The orcas, also called killer whales, live along the West Coast and frequent the Salish Sea.

Since 2005, the orca population has decreased from 88 orcas to a recent low of 72, according to the Center for Whale Research and NOAA Fisheries. As of February, the population was estimated at 75 with some recently identified calves.

The Endangered Species Act requires five-year reviews to determine whether a species is recovering or remains at risk of extinction.

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment for 60 days on new information about the orcas that has become available since the last such review in 2016. Previous reviews completed in 2016 and in 2011 concluded no change was warranted.

NOAA Fisheries has since deemed the orcas "one of nine marine species ... most at risk of extinction in the near future."

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